Mission-Driven Venture Investing
This week we have the distinct pleasure of interviewing Kanyi Maqubela, a Partner at Collaborative Fund. Kanyi has had a very interesting journey from startups to the world of venture capital. Kanyi has also had the unique experience of working in the emerging world of collaborative consumption and investing in both the Bay Area and New York entrepreneurial ecosystems.
How did you get into the world of technology and/or finance?
It was a bit of luck, I suppose. Some folks at Stanford GSB were taking Mark Leslie and Andy Rachleff’s “Formation of New Ventures” class while I was an undergrad, and they convinced me to help them work on their startup. From the day I did my first email blast to try and sign people up, it was full steam ahead.
Invest in relationships for the long term, don’t take crap from people, serve others, listen for what makes the world better, and be the best prepared person in the room.
Who has been your most important professional mentor and why?
This is a hard question. There are so many people who have looked out for me along the way, opened doors, and given me access. But honestly, my most important professional mentors have been my parents. While they aren’t in my industry, and they haven’t been able to advise me on equity, career inflection points, or the network, they are the foundation of my value-set. And relying on my values has been the tactic that has served me the best in my career. And these values are: invest in relationships for the long term, don’t take crap from people, serve others, listen for what makes the world better, and be the best prepared person in the room.
What has been the most meaningful professional experience you’ve had and why?
Working on Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008 was incredible. After a long couple of years working on grassroots marketing, product marketing, community management, and product management, I was exhausted, somewhat demoralized by the trials and tribulations of startup life, and all the way jaded about business. When I landed in the desert of Nevada and started knocking on doors and making phone calls, I realized that I was extraordinarily lucky to have had the experiences and relationships I’d had in my life. I realized that struggles out there are real, and that the United States has a long way to go before it is a truly equitable society. This got me ‘fired up’, as we used to say back then, because it gave me the lightbulb moment — perhaps a reminder, perhaps a fresh insight — that the only work worth doing, for me, was mission-driven work.
What is the most difficult professional or personal challenge you’ve had to overcome?
Dropping out of Stanford to work on a startup, while that sounds glamorous and a sign of great fortune, was actually really hard. As a young black man, I felt like I was tumbling towards being another statistic. I felt like I was betraying my parents. And working on startups is really hard — I felt like I was putting on a positive face and talking about how we were ‘killing it’ when really I felt like I was actually just delaying my inevitable failure, one day at a time. It was really demoralizing, lonely, and a source of great professional insecurity. When the company started to work, and we had some tailwind, it was easy to say that we were killing it the whole time, but honestly I’m still rebuilding my confidence from my first startup experience.
If you want to be in startups, meet everybody. Take any single intro, and do your best to add so much value to the person you’ve met that you can turn it into 5 more intros. Rinse, and repeat.
What advice do you have for young people of color who are looking to get into technology?
It depends on what part of the technology business you want to be in. If you want to be in startups, meet everybody. Take any single intro, and do your best to add so much value to the person you’ve met that you can turn it into 5 more intros. Rinse, and repeat. The vast majority of startups don’t work, and the people who are connected to the few that succeed seem brilliant in retrospect. But really, they are just in the right information flow, thereby maximizing their likelihood of getting lucky.
Who is one person you follow on social media who you think others should follow?
What news outlets or media sources do you read on a regular basis?
Just Twitter. I don’t read breaking news anymore.
There is only a small handful of black VC Partners in the entire venture industry. Tell us more about how you got into venture capital.
My partner Craig founded Collaborative Fund coming out of GOOD Magazine, where he was president. We had a number of mutual friends, who suggested that we chat. After a great chat, we agreed to work very casually together for a few months. About a year later, we had a great working relationship, had grown to trust each other, and decided to work together full time. That was summer of 2012, and I haven’t looked back since.
Why I agreed to stick around? I wanted to launch a new company, but after working with some dear friends on a few iterations of ideas, I realized I wanted to do a startup for startup’s sake, rather than because there was a problem space that was calling my name.
It’s great to be in New York, because it feels like the city’s startup ecosystem is still in the early innings.
You recently moved to New York. How would you compare the technology and venture industry in New York with what you saw in San Francisco?
The technology community here is extremely small. But there is such an incredible dynamism to this city, that I never feel insular, or closed off from the world. There is an incredible amount of global perspective that I feel while in New York. It still has a ways to go before it’s creating significant lasting companies, but that’s why it’s great to be here, because it feels like the city’s startup ecosystem is still in the early innings.
Collaborative Fund has a really strong sense of mission around promoting collaborative consumption. What motivates you to pursue that passion?
Collaborative Fund has two very simple missions: ‘we back the shared future’, and we invest in companies which ‘if successful, will make the world a better or more interesting place’. These are our compasses, because they represent two shifts that we think are inexorable and really important to the world: that we have a greater collaborative spirit, in commerce, community, and consumption, and that we match meaning with money. Given my desire to do stuff that matters, those two things keep me excited to wake up and go to work every morning.
Based on your writing, it’s clear that you’re into self-reflection. Given the long period of time from investment to exit in venture, how do you measure your own growth and progress as an investor?
Gosh, it’s changing every day. Right now I’m measuring two things. First, am I becoming a better communicator (internally on my team, and externally to the community)? Second, am I more patient?